Authorities seek killer of bald eagle near Loretto

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While a nesting pair of bald eagles attracts crowds in Allegheny County, rewards totaling more than $5,000 have been offered for information in the killing of a mature bald eagle in Cambria County.

Tom Fazi, southwest region education officer for the state Game Commission, said the bird was discovered injured but alive by all-terrain vehicle riders May 10 near Loretto, about 70 miles east of Pittsburgh. It was taken to a Game Commission veterinary hospital in State College, but it died from a small-caliber bullet wound. The remains were sent for necropsy to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study at the University of Georgia.

"We know of hundreds of bald eagle nesting sites in Pennsylvania, but this bird was not known to us," Mr. Fazi said. "Thankfully, they're not killed like this very often. This is the second one that I can remember in our region in the last 15 years."

In January, a Lancaster County farmer was convicted of shooting and killing a bald eagle.

Bald eagles are a 20th century wildlife management success story. Pennsylvania's population traces its lineage to a 1983 Game Commission restoration program in which 88 eaglets were captured in Canada and released in Dauphin and Pike counties. Today more than 220 nesting sites have produced more than 1,000 eaglets in the state.

Populations have been climbing across the country, and the bald eagle was removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species in 2007. It is still considered threatened in Pennsylvania but has met all the criteria for removal from the state's threatened list for three years running.

"They're doing great, but we don't want people shooting them, that's for sure," Mr. Fazi said.

A 1782 act of Congress designated the bird a national emblem of the United States. The 1940 federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act prohibits (without a permit issued by the secretary of the Interior) the harassing of bald eagles, their nests and their eggs, or attacking or killing them.

The Game Commission is offering up to $250 for information leading to the arrest of the Loretto shooter.

The Humane Society of the United States has added an additional $5,000 reward.

"We do that when it's an endangered species and in special cases where there's a thrill killing," said Sarah Speed of the Humane Society's Pennsylvania office. "We don't know the circumstances here yet, but the killing of a bald eagle is rare in Pennsylvania. It's something we take seriously."

Penalties for violating Pennsylvania's threatened and endangered species law can be steep. A first offense is a second-degree misdemeanor, forfeiture of hunting privileges for up to seven years, a fine of not more than $5,000 and up to 12 months imprisonment.

Criminal charges for violating the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Act include a maximum fine of $5,000 and one year's imprisonment, plus civil charges that could reach $5,000 for each violation.

Mr. Fazi said that in threatened and endangered species cases, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state authorities often compromise, leveling less than maximum charges.

Anyone with information about the bald eagle killing is asked to call the Game Commission's Southwest Regional office at 724-238-9523 or its TIP Hotline number, 888-PGC-8001.

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John Hayes: 412-263-1991, First Published May 22, 2013 4:00 AM


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